The season is young very, very long (good thing I didn't have UCLA this high) so it's never too late to learn about another one of our top-ranked Pac-12 nemeses!
This one has gone from the conference cellar to a contender in a few short years. Next up: The Utah Utes.
Larry Krystkowiak is building something at Utah and it's happening fast. In year one at Utah, Krystkowiak's Utes went an anemic 6-25 and 3-15 in the conference. They've improved every year since, and last year, in year four, Utah went 26-9, 13-5 in conference, and made their first Sweet Sixteen in a decade.
The quick ascent could be accredited to Larry K's past in basketball. Krystkowiak brought a ton of NBA knowledge and experience with him to Salt Lake City. And that has translated well, especially at the defensive end, as they have had a top 40 rank in adjusted defensive efficiency the last two years, ranking 6th last season.
Utah might have the single largest void to fill in the conference as they lost their point guard, do-it-all leader, Delon Wright to the NBA. He was tremendous a year ago, averaging 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals all while shooting 51% from the field. A large void is left, indeed. However, they're pretty sure they've got someone to fill the role of scoring and rebounding at the very least. Sophomore 7 footer, Jakob Poeltl, was a revelation last season. In his freshman year, the Austria native averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 boards. But he showed flashes of what could be a long and scary (for his opponents) NBA career, and he'll be looking to do that full-time this year.
Games versus Arizona...
Feb. 27 @ Jon M. Huntsman Center
The Projected Starting Five...
F Jakob Poeltl
F Kyle Kuzma
F Jordan Loveridge
G Isaiah Wright
G Brandon Taylor
Loveridge and Taylor are seniors and are the returning high scorers from last year's Sweet Sixteen team. Poeltl is a sophomore and the other returning starter. Wright and Kuzma are both sophomores and appear to be the other starters. Look for senior guard, Dakarai Tucker and sophomore forward, Brekkott Chapman to get spot starts through. Especially if Utah's backcourt is having trouble scoring.
The Best Case Scenario...
Jakob Poeltl is a double-double machine and shows how much potential he's got. The backcourt will need to step up to replace Delon Wright. As will the seniors. Brandon Taylor is capable of shooting the lights out and if he does that often, this team's inside-outside game could be frightening. Their ceiling is conference champions and a second-straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen, maybe further.
I think this team could struggle to guard the perimeter. It's not that their guards are bad at defending; they're not. They just don't have the same guy as a year ago. Delon Wright may have been the most valuable player in college basketball a year ago and that's not easy to replace. But, this team is talented, especially the front line, and they'll be well-coached. I got 'em at 3rd in the conference, 12-6 record, and a second-straight Sweet Sixteen.